I feel the regularity of self-compassion based practices is enhancing my resiliency and stability. Yesterday, I was troubled by the activity of a very discursive mind. Thoughts led me down old rabbit hole patterns of failure, defeat and despair. I tried to move away from it by keeping busy. I was able to distract myself for a couple hours when I met friends for an afternoon concert. Yet as I drove home, the thoughts came rushing back in. Finally, after I arrived home and began to make some dinner, I happened to look outside and see the pink glow of the setting sun across the snowy fields and said to myself, “Okay, it’s time to stop and be in this.”
I grabbed a cushion and blanket, pulled on my favorite hoodie and a hat and scarf, and sat in meditation on the deck, immersed in the cold, clear winter air, allowing it to wrap around me just like the blanket I wrapped around me to keep me warm. I placed a hand over my heart and began to name and allow what I was experiencing. The thoughts and feelings were so jumbled and tumbling over one another, that it took some time to even be able to pull them apart and name the different experiences. Sad, angry, hurt, lost, defeated, depleted, lonely. I named each one and said hello. I acknowledged the many other people in the world who were also experiencing these feelings and was gentle with myself.
Slowly I became more aware of the cold air around me. The way it felt on the exposed skin around my eyes and worked its way beneath the edges of the scarf to find my cheeks. I noticed, even with my eyes closed, that the last light of the day had faded. The thoughts and feelings still rose and fell, yet I was capable of more spaciousness and was able to soften the compulsion to either resist or cling to them. One by one, a chorus of coyotes began to call in the distance. I felt my heart respond to their cries. A slight smile formed, spontaneously rising up from my heart. The peace and ease a balm to the weariness of the tumultuous day.
This morning I listened to Tara Brach’s podcast as I made and ate breakfast. It was an episode from a couple of weeks ago. She brought in a quote from Sri Nisargadatta I’ve heard her use before, “The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.” Given the immediacy of the experience of the previous day, this quote resonated strongly for me. The thoughts and feelings had created an abyss of separation from the ever-present capacity of my infinite heart. The smile from my heart, which the self-compassion, stillness and call of the coyotes helped me to reconnect with, brought me back to knowing and trusting my ability to accept and be with whatever arises.
Yes, it took me most of the day to return to this knowing, but compared to even just a couple of months ago, this was a fairly quick turnaround to remembering what I know. And even as I struggled with the tempest of thoughts and emotions, I was aware of a voice inside me encouraging me to make room for it all, to recognize it as a passing storm. It guided me to place my hand on my heart, to remember I am not alone in the experience of suffering, and eventually to stop and take the time to turn towards and welcome the tumult rather than finding ways to run away.
I am going to return to Tonglen practice for the next couple of weeks. I’m curious if the growing resilience might affect my capacity to sit with the suffering of the world. Here are the directions for the practice from Pema Chodron.
May these efforts serve the awakening of all beings.
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